We recently received a message from our Kiwi friend Shardul that ran thus:
The attached article was posted on a blog that has now gone the way of the dinosaurs, struck by the asteroid of disinterest. It is about my own experience and views on music, the importance of finding an instrument that suits ones nature, needs and abilities, and how I got started playing the flute – which is where you come in to the picture. Anyway, if you feel that it is a story worth telling, perhaps your blog would be a good home for my humble scribblings. I shall leave it in your hands to do with as you wish.
And so, we present…
Finding Your Instrument
Have you ever noticed that some people seem to be blessed with the wonderful ability to get music out of just about any musical instrument they lay their hands on? (I have a friend who I swear could wring a tune from a damp sponge if he wanted to!) Then there are those of us who, though devoted music lovers, struggle to express ourselves even on one instrument. The later is my category – or so I thought.
“Music; the greatest good that mortals know, and all of heaven we have below.”
– Joseph Addison.
For those who are left in awe of the musically gifted creed, we may be doing them and ourselves something of a disservice. First of all, we have not witnessed the many hours of practice that these ‘fortunate maestros’ have put into their music training. Some survive on raw talent but most have to work hard at it. Secondly it is a fatal mistake to compare oneself to others – probably the numero uno inspiration killer – because we develop the ‘Oh, I could never ever be like that’ syndrome! We are all unique and carry within us the quintessential seeds of creativity. Thirdly, for those of us whose creativity-seeds are still in the early stages of germination, there is the thought that we may not yet have found our instrument – that divine implement that was made ‘just for me’, perfectly suits our personality and allows the creative outlet that we have always yearned for. There is truth in this – I know it for a fact because it took me some four and a half decades to find the instrument that I did not even know I was looking for!
So I write with the intension of encouraging kindred-souls who are still holding to the hope that they may yet get a chance to play the music that they hear and feel inside their hearts and minds. Here is my story …
How I found my instrument (or how it found me!)
In another article, I wrote that my parents kept a number of instruments around the house when my siblings and I were young – the object being to encourage us to take up an instrument. Unfortunately our parents were not musically inclined – preferring to enjoy music through the mediums of TV, radio and my father’s record collection. Nothing wrong with that of course, but there is a message here: parents, if you want your children to do something, do it yourselves too so that the kids will emulate you – the old ‘lead from the front’ philosophy.
During my school years I tried a variety of instruments but nothing stuck. Emulating my parents, I started buying records as my teenage years blossomed and the stereo became my favoured instrument through that era. At least I learned to sing along and developed some capacity to learn music by ear. This trait landed me in plenty of trouble during my high school piano lessons because once I became familiar with a piece of music, I would stop reading the black dots, close my eyes and play the music from memory – feeling the music. But in the public education system of the day, das war verboten…
“Music is not just learning notes and playing them. You learn notes to play to the music of your soul.” – Katie Greenwood.
In 1984 I learned to meditate and since then have been subject to the compassionate tutelage of Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual Master and prolific composer of devotional music. His music really resonates with me and I have listened to and sung his songs since that time. Born of meditation, I find that Sri Chinmoy’s music makes a wonderful extension and compliment to my daily meditation practice. Naturally I also yearned to play his music on an instrument and did have a harmonium for a while but decided to sell it one year in order to travel. Listening and singing would have to do…
In 2000 I found myself in Ireland to help with a series of free meditation classes in Dublin. During my stay in the Emerald Isle, I purchased a tin whistle and began playing some of Sri Chinmoy’s tunes on it. My joy and confidence rose in lockstep and before long I was practicing for one or two hours each day with ease. “Sounds like you’ve found your instrument!” a musician-friend commented at the time and that boosted my confidence even further…
“Never get one of those cheap tin whistles. It leads to much harder drugs like pipes and flutes.” – Unknown.
I returned to Dublin the next year after spending time in New York with Sri Chinmoy. He had been based in New York since 1964 and his students from all over the world would gather there at certain times of the year. Sri Chinmoy is known as a real renaissance man. Asides from composing over 26,000 songs, he also played a wide variety of world instruments and performed nearly 800 free concerts during his 43 years in the West. Knowing that he was always on the lookout for new instruments, I had the opportunity to ask him if he would be interested in an Irish flute – something that had caught my eye on my first trip to Dublin. “Certainly,” he said with an appreciative smile, “See if you can find a flute that is both powerful and sweet.”
Once back in Dublin, I began calling flute makers. Eventually I took a train down to the seaside town of Bray in County Wicklow and met with Martin Doyle whose brochure I had come across at a music store in Dublin. Asides from being a great flute maker, Martin is also a very talented multi-instrumentalist with a flare for composing music. Very intrigued by the idea of making a flute for a spiritual Master, he immediately committed to making a flute for Sri Chinmoy and also for the New York based musician Premik Russell Tubbs who has been Sri Chinmoy’s student since the 1970’s.
A few days before I was due to return to New York, I ventured back down to Bray to pick up the flutes. Martin welcomed me into his workshop and proceeded to demonstrate the two flutes he had crafted. Then he pointed to a third flute and said, “If you can play me a tune on that flute, its yours to have as a gift.” I had never played an Irish flute before, but I picked it up and managed to play one of Sri Chinmoy’s tunes that I knew well on the tin whistle. “Very good,” Martin said, “it’s yours!” Such a kind and generous gesture on Martin’s part set me on a course that has brought untold happiness into my life!
I had tried a concert flute when I was about eight years old – an older cousin played one in her school orchestra and she tried to get me to play as well, but I did not think much of it. Some 35 years later however, the warm, organic sounds I heard coming from the wooden Irish flute touched a chord deep inside – something that had never happened before. I also loved the simplicity of a six-hole keyless flute. The tin whistle had been a precursor but, in the wooden flute, I really had found my instrument.
So if you have not found your instrument yet, please, keep looking, keep yearning. It will be there and it will turn up eventually if the need is sincere and the aspiration strong. Certainly a visit to a music store (my favourite here in Christchurch is Gandharva Loka) will offer you a very broad variety of instruments to look at and try. Variety is the spice of life and sometimes it is good to try a few things to get a feeling for what might light your fire. I do dream of other instruments now – a cello is at the top of my wish list. A friend recently loaned me a Chinese erhu recently – it is nice to explore new possibilities.
There is tremendous value in music, and countless benefits. So, if you haven’t already, I do hope that you find your instrument and experience the joys of music-making in your life – however that manifests itself. To end, here is a link to an audio file of yours truly playing one of Sri Chinmoy’s songs on a keyless Martin Doyle cocus wood D flute.
“Music will play a most important role in bringing about world oneness, for music embodies the Universal Heart, the Oneness-Heart.” – Sri Chinmoy.